Problems of Tennis Development in Nigeria

by Sadiq A. Abdullahi

I am sharing this article written by Ayo Ositelu, in his column in The Arena titled “The Verdict of Abdullahi”. The article was published in the Sunday CONCORD newspaper in December 2, 1990. My intent here is to show that tennis improvement and sports development is a long process that requires deep and careful thought, and it involves a lot of other things. It is not clear to me whether Pat Ekeji, the Acting Director-General of the National Sports Commission, the architect of the privatization of the 33 federations understands the inherent problems associated with privatization of sports in Nigeria. On the other hand, I believe that he does know and understands the implications in accomplishing his 12-Points agenda, which he released last week.

Sadiq Abdulahi, Nigeria’s long serving Davis Cup Player and champion of just any tennis tournament of note in the country in the last five years, but who now practices his trade in where else? The United States of America breezed in the last week to take care of some personal matters. I suppose those “personal matters” include the recapturing of the President’s Cup, which inaugural tournament he won two years ago and which he was not around to defend last year.

Perhaps most importantly, in the estimation of this columnist at least, the man with a mission took a good look at the state of the game which has made him an idol to many youth in this country and which has guaranteed him a comfortable livelihood in the United States for the rest of his life. He checked out the progress or lack of it of the youths he left behind, some of whom our sportswriters have lavished a lot of ink for nothing else to do.

He even tried to view seriously the reported claim from the throne of the chairmanship of the governing body of the sport in Nigeria that the Nigerian Lawn Tennis Association has now discovered ten budding players who will surely take Nigeria to greater heights including strong representation in Wimbledon, Davis Cup and other prestigious tournaments.

Like some of us, Abdulahi is not taking to the street in jubilation. His verdict? Forget it. These ones that I see aren’t taking Nigeria anywhere. The standard is just too low. I salute the kids for their dedication, but there has to be another way of doing things if we must get to the Promised Land.

We should listen to Abdulahi. He has been through it all. On his way up; he was a beneficiary or is it victim of a half bred tennis development program which left youngsters to virtually develop on their own more, often than not, those youngster went cap-in-hand soliciting for used tennis equipment, balls and unavailable space from members private tennis clubs to practice during “prime time.” Now “prime time” in tennis is not the same as television prime time. In tennis, it is twice a day very early in the morning and in the afternoon when the sun is not too harsh.

while most of the youths we wish would compete with the rest of the world start playing the game after their tenth birthday and lack decent equipment and adequate coaching, their peers who turn out to dominate the world circuit to become Wimbledon champions start almost as soon as they could walk, and benefit from parental backing, government constructed public tennis courts or private ones, and develop through different levels of coaching as they grow in the game.

Sadiq Abdullahi is one of those fortunate kids (by Nigerian standards) who got a chance to play at all. He once was a ball boy at premier clubs who sought and sometimes got some philanthropic members’ generosity in return for spending hours teaching out-of-shape but vastly successful doctors, lawyers, engineers etc. Of course, he became a good player, again by Nigerian standards. Ironically, while he blossomed into such “high standards’ which in reality was just below fair standard in USA, Soviet Union, Australia, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, W. Germany etc, his peers in the mentioned countries were challenging the best in the world.

The story is the same today. While some tennis devotees are falling over themselves for the All-Nigeria tournament victory of a youth who is nearer thirty than twenty over a 40 years old David Imonitie, we are forgetting that Michael Chang won the French Open at 17. Boris Becker won Wimbledon at 17 and Pete Sampras the U.S Open at 19.

After dominating the Nigerian tennis scene for years, Sadiq Abdullahi did what is becoming fashionable for successful Nigerian doctors. He did not choose Saudi Arabia. Instead he chose America, the home of those ever dangerous “Unknown Americans.” Now in America, where he has polished off his playing skills as a college student in the early 80’s, Abdullahi landed a lucrative tennis teaching job which should make comfortable as long as he can hit balls from one side of the net to the eager youths and adults who want to improve their game either at the competitive or social level.

When he has the time, he takes time off coaching to participate in neighborhood or intercity tournaments. Living a life almost completely devoted to tennis, Sadiq obviously sees the vantage point. If he is helping America’s tennis to grow (America’s would not pay anyone one dollar if he has not worked for it), and having gone through our own system, he should be able to make suggestions about how we can make real progress.

Tennis progress in Nigeria unfortunately is measured by the glamour in tournaments arrangements and not necessarily by the quality or standard of play. Anyone who has attended tournaments organized by the Nigerian Lawn Tennis Association would agree that the body, as has been shown in the last decade or more, organizes good tournaments.

What the body has repeatedly failed to do is to engineer a drive towards grassroots development of the sport, or arrange a sound and organized training program for those youths who hunger for stardom to blossom into real stars. The body should take Abdullahi’s verdict seriously and be prepared to work as the body running the sport and not only as organizers of tournaments. We have written it several times in this column, and have made a few enemies here and there, that we spent too much time celebrating and capitalizing on Odizor’s modest but well deserved accomplishments in the world tennis circuit.

Now that the same message is coming from a champion (now a coach) who has been through it all- the ugly and now the beautiful in the USA it might serve us well to listen. Talk is cheap. Those announced then, whether disguised or not, will take us no where. Their foundation is not on solid rock. It is about time we tried to reap where we sowed. There is joy in planning.

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nosa imafidon August 15, 2015 - 9:45 am

Why is it that nobody remember tennis players like.
Verónica Oyinbokia
Nosa Imafidon
Rolake Olagbegi and many others

George January 9, 2009 - 9:06 pm

I love the veracity of this article. The problems are staring at us, what do we do? I think its about time we give back. I am not saying you guys have not given, the kind of giving I am talking about here is ourselves. Thank God for America, for our families, you guys have worked soooooo hard to get to where you are. I love what the Duke said in one of the national dailies – he wants to become the next president of NTF – I was glad and excited. These people back home need to work with those of us who are trained and exposed to how an academy works. We are everywhere. – 2 brothers are out there at IMG, 1 is with Chris Evert, Sule is out there, I am in MD very close to Steve who unfortunately is not in top shape. You are out there, and tons of you guys who played Davis Cup for Nigeria. When do we go home and help run these training centers. We can send all the money in the US, trust me, it will make no difference. They DO NOT HAVE the Knowledge of what and how an academy should be operated. Doc, you know that the level of the coach determines how high or good a player can be. There are no certified coaches who understand what Sports Science means, you mention periodisation and they look at you as … they do not know what Goal setting is all about, neither do they know the place of physical and mental conditioning. The players train ‘hard’ only to go home and drink garri with peanut if they are lucky. Does not understand the difference between dynamic warm up and static warm up, therefore picks up injuries easily. I saw a couple of them with muscles bigger than a weight lifter’s, because they do not know anything about strength training. I can go on and on and on.

All they want to hear is tournament. Those in power do not know the place of marketing. They think going to a company 2 months prior to a tournament is what it takes to get sponsorship. They think Davis cup is all there is in Tennis, we do not have a Fed cup team, how about The Hopman cup, Junior Davis/Fed cup, and other ITF tournaments for adults.

We need to go home. It has to be a sacrifice though. If we have a National Training Center when people like you come home you can spend say a week at the center. Then we will not need to use our hard earned $$$ to pay a foreign coach. We here can do what anyone of them can do.

I thank God for the concern you all have. The potentials abound. Let tap them, Collectively.


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